Xinjiang punishes party members for religious practices

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 June, 2014, 4:06am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 June, 2014, 4:06am

Ten officials in a prefecture in Xinjiang have been punished for taking part in religious activities or making speeches that violated ethnic policies, local party authorities have said.

The disciplinary measures came as five people went on trial in the regional capital of Urumqi in connection with a suicide car attack in Beijing last year that authorities have blamed on separatists.

According to the Yili Communist Party's discipline inspection committee, two officials were stripped of their party membership for "participating in religious activities". Two others - retired Uygur teachers - had been "organising gatherings to talk about the Koran" since 2008, a committee statement said. One received a warning while the other was given one year of probation.

Two other officials were accused of belonging to cults, with one sacked from his post and the other expelled from the party. Other officials were either fired or demoted for practising religion or making speeches that damaged ethnic harmony, it said.

"The authority used to turn a blind eye to party members visiting mosques but now it seems control has become tighter," said Yang Shu , a professor of Central Asian Studies at Lanzhou University.

"When the influence of religion gets so big it interferes with politics, authorities will curb its influence," Yang added.

Xinjiang, home to the Uygur ethnic minority who mostly follow Islam, is the focus of a security crackdown following a string of violent attacks in Xinjiang and elsewhere on the mainland that Beijing has blamed on separatists or terrorists.

The recent wave of violence began when a jeep carrying three people drove into a crowd and burst into flames near Tiananmen Gate on October 28 last year. Two bystanders along with the people in the vehicle died, and nearly 40 others were injured.

The five people on trial in Urumqi were arrested soon after the attack, state media reported earlier. They had confessed to police they helped plan the attack with the other three assailants, according to reports.

Counterterrorism officials in Xinjiang have received more than 300 tips from the public and detained 60 people as a result of the information, Xinhua reported.

More than 160 explosive devices and 40kg of material used to make bombs have been seized. In addition, two sites where illegal audio and video material were recorded have been raided.

The suspects held were part of nine groups allegedly involved in terrorism which were targeted by police. One extremist religious group was also raided, the Xinhua report said.